As hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease, beta amyloid plaques often make the headlines. But what, exactly, do we know about these plaques, and why is it important for researchers to learn more about how amyloid affects the brain? Here is a brief rundown of what you need to know, as well as a summary of what scientists are doing to identify and target these potential markers of brain disease.
Beta amyloid plaques are abnormal structures prevalent in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. These misfolded proteins form sticky clumps that proliferate in the memory centers of the brain. They can disrupt nerve cell function, triggering inflammation and leading to the memory decline and personality changes that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The Brain Health Registry’s own Principal Investigator, Dr. Mike Weiner, weighed in on one hypothesis that may help explain the origin of these plaques. The new research, described in a recent article in the New York Times, suggests that beta amyloid deposits in the brain could be the remains from immune responses to infections in the brain. Researchers suspect these infections occur when bacteria or viruses are able to slip past the blood-brain barrier, the brain’s natural defense system against invaders that naturally gets leakier as we grow older.
At this time, one of the few tools available to help scientists detect amyloid in a living person’s brain is a PET scan, a type of brain imaging that uses a special tracer to bind to amyloid plaques thereby making beta-amyloid plaques easier to visualize. Neuroimaging offers hope for researchers focused on earlier detection and deeper exploration of the early changes in the brain that may lead to Alzheimer’s.
This is why we at the Brain Health Registry are thrilled to be involved in The IDEAS (Imaging Dementia – Evidence for Amyloid Scanning) Study led by the Alzheimer’s Association and other groups including the American College of Radiology. The IDEAS Study will enable more than 18,000 Medicare beneficiaries to receive Medicare coverage for a brain amyloid PET scan, which can help clarify the cause of patients’ cognitive and memory impairment. Researchers hope to show that increased access to PET scans that enable earlier detection and diagnosis will lead to better health outcomes—including fewer emergency room and hospital visits, and improvements in the way medications used treat symptoms of dementia are prescribed.
Patients enrolled in this study will also have the opportunity to provide researchers with an additional snapshot of brain health through participating in the Brain Health Registry. Continue reading here to learn more about this groundbreaking research that we hope will make a real impact on the way physicians diagnose and treat people with Alzheimer’s and other brain disease.
This month, the Brain Health Registry would like to recognize dads everywhere– and what better way to show your appreciation than to help advance brain health research in honor of the men in your life! According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, men are about one and half times more likely than women to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Men also make up a minority of Brain Health Registry participants – shockingly, only 25% of Brain Health Registry enrollees -- meaning many are missing out on the opportunity to participate in research studies that seek to understand and find treatments for brain disease including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, PTSD, and more.
If you haven’t already, please join the Brain Health Registry today, and encourage your loved ones to do the same. Then, fire up the grill for that Father’s Day BBQ, and don’t forget to spend time with the ones you love this Father’s Day.